Sunday, March 29, 2015

Guest Post: Rabbi Shalom Rivkin's copy of a Talipyot Journal

By Jacob D.

Aside for the main reward of visiting a good used Jewish bookstore (finding rare books that are long out of print, or finding books that are still being sold in new bookstores but sometimes for double, or maybe even triple the price), there's another benefit which I've learned to look out for over the years. Occasionally  we come across books that have once belonged to interesting people, and sometimes aside for leaving us their name or book plate we are treated and left with their notes which they've jotted down on the margins, or inside the covers. I would like to share an example.

Not too long back JudaicaUsed acquired a large portion of a deceased rabbi's library, the library of R' Shalom Rivkin OB"M, the chief rabbi of St. Louis. (see the excellent Wikipedia page on him here ). In some of his books I came across some interesting notes he jotted down on the margins. One book was a worn out volume of the fine Jewish quarterly Talpioth (vol.6 no. 1-2 March 1953). 

From marks he made in the table of contents and throughout the book it seems that he made it his business to read almost the entire journal comprised of random essays in Jewish scholarship, ranging from philosophy and history, to Halakha, Hasidut, and Kabbalah.

Notice that he doesn't mark down the article on pg. 423, notes on the Me'iri by R' Dovber Zuckerman, soon to be his very own father in law ! The notes are on Me'iri to tractate Mikva'ot, so how many people can be expected to read notes on a medieval commentary to a complicated tractate in a journal? But no worry, when we open the pages of R' Zuckermans notes we see R' Rivkin's pencil marks testifying that he certainly didn't skip over these pages and at least read it somewhat. Here is where it begins to get interesting. I'm sure that most of the  readers are acquainted with the topic of the antiquity and authenticity  of the Zohar. There is nothing I can add to that topic. The discussion of "did the Rambam know Kabalah"  (or did Kabalah use the Rambam etc) is also pretty well known I'd assume, and to that too I have nothing to add. It is interesting though to notice the following. R' Yeruham Leiner of Radzin wrote notes on the Zohar in this journal starting on page 410. In a note on page 413 he makes a claim that a certain Zohar Hadash in Bereshit is the source for a Rambam in hilkhot De'ot.

As you can see R' Rivkin corrects R' Leiner and says that this can't be THE source to Rambam but rather just A source because Rambam never saw the Zohar. It happens again on pg. 418 towards the bottom of the page where we see R' Rivkin circles the word "hamekor" -"the source" because he believes it should instead be just "mekor"- "a source".

Other than that it seems (from his pencil markings) R' Rivkin was enjoying the rest of R' Leiner's notes. Maybe R' Rivkin should've known already that R' Leiner firmly believes Rambam (and other Rishonim) knew lots of the traditions brought in the Zohar as can be seen in his  Zohar haRakia, an addendum to the Radal's Kadmut Sefer Hazohar that he (Leiner) republished in 1951 (see R' Leiner regarding RaMbam and the Zohar here.

It seems from something else I found that later on R' Rivkin may have had his doubts . In a letter that the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote to R' Rivkin dated 29th of Shevat 5721 (February 15th, 1961) we see the Rebbe writes to R' Rivkin

 "In regards to your correspondence on the topic of the Rambam and the wisdom of Kabbalah see Sefer haSichot summer 5700 page 41 in the footnote".

For anyone who is curious here is the Rebbe's reference

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